CD Review: “Spreading the Legacy” (Childress Family)

200802childress.jpgThough the Childress Family has been touring for over thirty years, for most of that time they have been known for what one of the original members became after leaving the group: Original member Shannon Childress was the Hoppers’ pianist and sometime producer from the mid-80s through the late-90s. This is unfortunate, because if this CD is any indication, the group is a pretty solid act on its own account.

All the group members are related; family patriarch and matriarch Ken and Marlene Childress are joined by daughters Carla Childress (soprano) and Teresa Childress Lutz (alto), as well as son-in-law Jamey Lutz (lead) and grand-daughter Courtney Lutz.

Though Shannon Childress has not re-joined the group, he did produce this project. The producer’s touch that helped propel the Hoppers to the top is in evidence on this project, especially on the soaring ballads “For What Earthly Reason” and “Who is He in Yonder Stall,” the project’s highlights.

Even though the project has several cover songs, the song placement gives the overall project the feel of a project of entirely new songs. Five of the new songs were written or co-written by family members (if two songs from Shannon’s pen are counted).

The album has a musical balance that reflects the variety of tastes within the family–ballads, convention songs, a piano solo, and even a few songs with a progressive feel. The songs with a more contemporary feel are the three on which granddaughter Courtney is featured; she brings vocal stylings reminiscent of a young Lauren Talley to songs like the cover of Natalie Grant’s “I Desire.” Though the range of styles present on the CD would suggest an artistic tension that is present to a minor degree, skillful song placement minimizes this drawback.

It seems odd to describe an ensemble that has been touring for over three decades as having potential, but that is the one word that this recording most brings to mind. Put another way, that the group is getting less recognition than the quality of this project suggests that it deserves. Granted, this project may not be quite at the level of a major-label high-budget release by a current top group. But it comes surprisingly close.

Rating: Recommended.

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2 Letters to the Editor

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  1. I was fortunate to have worked on this current project of the Childress Family and please let me add my endorsement to this fine group. In my opinion they are not among the finest, they are the finest mix group on the road today. I have worked with artists and session musicians for 30 years or more, and this family has inherent in its membership, some of the finest and most talented musicians and singers I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The singing and musicianship on this recording more than competes with anything presented by any major label group in the country, and in fact, competes with the best secular has to offer. Not only are they super talented, but they love the Lord and their lives are a witness and testimony as to how one should present themselves as followers of the Christ. I love the Childress Family and feel fortunate to call them among my closest friends.

  2. I was pleased to see this review of the group whom I agree with Ben Harris is THE finest mixed group working in Southern Gospel today. I see the selection of songs on this project to be a display of the amazing versatility of the group. These are incredibly talented musicians who not only offer a polished, skilled delivery of classic Southern Gospel tunes but also are versatile enough to minister very convincingly with songs or arrangements outside the bounds of the genre.

    I have to disagree with you in that I certainly find this project to be on the same level or above those of any full-time group that has the major label and the large budget. I have listened to many over the past year and I have heard not one with better vocals, arrangements or production.

    Ben Harris is definitely correct in stating that the members of The Childress Family are incredibly impressive on their recordings but even more so in person as true professionals and Christians. I think this group is one of the best-kept secrets in Southern Gospel but hopefully won’t continue to be a secret for much longer.